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Fran McCaffery starts his fifth season as Iowa's men's basketball coach Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and the man who hired him likes what he's seen so far.

"I am thrilled with the progress," Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said.

Excitement, style of play, winning … they've all spiked under McCaffery's watch. Average attendance at Carver-Hawkeye Arena has jumped from 9,550 the year before he arrived to 14,976 last season. That is a bottom line any athletic administrator can live with.

After four straight losing seasons, which included McCaffery's first at the helm in 2010-11, Iowa has been to postseason play three straight years, including the school's first NCAA bid in eight years last season. The Hawkeyes are in search of a third straight 20-win season.

It hasn't been an easy climb. Seven losses in the last eight games a season ago was a detour. There have been others. But the positives outweigh the negatives the past four seasons.

"Once you get to a certain level, getting to that next step is even harder," Barta said. "But we have a great nucleus, we have a lot of talented scorers and defenders and a lot of options. I think optimism is high."

McCaffery will earn $1.8 million this season, after the $200,000 raise he got for taking his team to the NCAA Tournament. His contract runs through the 2018-19 season. Barta rewarded McCaffery with an enhanced contract in July of 2012, and said there's been talk about another revision.

"When he was hired, I said that as he continues to grow this and we continue to have success, my vision and goal is for him to be the most successful basketball coach in America," Barta said. "And as he's doing it, I'm going to continue to work on his contract and show progress. So yes, we have been in discussions."

McCaffery signed four players to National Letters of Intent on Wednesday, players who will be expected to add to the foundation that's been established the past four seasons.

"I've never been around a coaching staff that works as tirelessly and as hard and as passionately in recruiting as this group does," Barta said. "Fran sets the tone. But his staff works tirelessly at it."

That emphasis on the future that is another reason why Barta is confident he got it right with his hiring of McCaffery in the spring of 2010. Barta said he's always been on the same page with his coach on this journey.

"Neither of us, in our minds, are satisfied," Barta said. "We still have a long way to go to where we ultimately want to get to."

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.

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